How to Hire Your First Employee as an Independent Video Producer

There’s more to running a video production company than buying a camera, installing some editing software and hanging up a shingle. Entrepreneurially-minded video producers know that they must pay their dues in the work-for-hire space in order to build a reputation and grow a large customer base. This means consistently delivering a product that meets or exceeds the expectations of their clients based on the agreed upon rate of pay for the job. As newcomers enter the production-for-hire space they often need to begin by creating work alone and for free as they hone their skills, learn from mistakes, build a demo reel to showcase their work and gain the trust of their clientele; after all, happy customers are our best marketers.

There’s only so much that one individual can take on.

Those who endure this challenging yet exciting alone and free phase of the entrepreneurial process will eventually enjoy the excitement of landing work with actual paying clients who, incidentally, are often less demanding and easier to please that those getting work for free. At this stage, the independent producer is still typically working as a one person operation: seeking clients, making pitches, writing estimates, and signing contracts, then setting up their own lighting and audio rigs, running the camera, directing talent and supervising their own script on set before ingesting their own footage, editing the entire production and presenting it back to the client for approval. As challenging as this may sound, many independent producer/editors (pre-editors) love working this way. They control their own schedules, negotiate their own rates and are the masters of their own creative domains. For many, this is level of alone and paid production business is enough. At some point, however, the one-person production house will reach a limit with regard to how much work he or she can handle. There’s only so much that one individual can take on. When this threshold is inevitably reached, the pre-editor will be faced with a choice: turn away work, or hire a helper to expand production bandwidth and grow their business. 

When it’s time to make your first hire there are a few options to consider. These are ranked from low to high in terms of experience, ability and cost.

Option 1: Hire a production assistant – Perhaps all you really need is an extra set of hands to carry gear, run for a fresh battery or hold a reflector. A production assistant (PA) can be young and unskilled, but must be an eager helper. While a PA may not drastically increase your bandwidth, the incremental efficiencies you find will add up.

Option 2: Hire a production protege – An aspiring but inexperienced video enthusiast can be a great choice as your first hire. This person can be taught to monitor audio, position lighting or run a second camera. After doing a series of shoots together you can send your protege out alone to handle simple shoots. Likewise, you can train your protege to ingest footage and rough out an initial edit. Eventually, you may hand off entire productions to be completed under your supervision.

Option 3: Hire a production specialist – You may choose to concentrate on one part of your production process and hire an experienced and trustworthy specialist to own another part of the job. You may feel that you need to be on site for each shoot, controlling the shot list and directing the acquisition of footage. In this case you may opt to hire an experienced editor to handle all of your post-production workflow. Or flip the scenario and send out a shooter to capture your footage so you can handle post. This type of skilled hire will cost more, but can bring in an exponential return on your investment.

Option 4: Hire a production partner – Whether you call them a partner and share the costs and profits equally or if they merely function as an equal in carrying the weight of production work, having a functional partner who you can empower to shoot, edit, concept and sell is a huge asset. This kind of co-producer can help you take on more jobs and crank them out with greater efficiency than someone who has to be closely managed. In time, he or she may even become a team leader who trains up others in your company.

Whatever role your new hire takes on, make sure both you and your new employee are benefiting from your arrangement. Hire the right person for the job, and you’ll be ready to take on more working on tighter deadlines — and make more money in the process.

Matthew York is Videomaker‘s Publisher/Editor.

Matthew York
Matthew York
Matt York is Videomaker's Publisher/Editor.

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